LOS ANGELES - Rickard Rakell said he was ready to play, and boy was he ever. After missing the first nine games of the season because of abdominal surgery and a lengthy contract stalemate that went longer than anyone had hoped, the 23-year-old made an emphatic return to the lineup recording a goal and a game-high three-points in Anaheim's dominant 4-0 victory over the LA Kings at STAPLES Center on Tuesday night.
"It gives you confidence," said Rakell. "I'm hoping to build off of this and try to help the team as much as I can. I'm not trying to think too much. It's a new game tomorrow. I'm going to go out with the same mindset."
Antoine Vermette and Ryan Kesler also found the back of the net, and Joseph Cramarossa recorded his first career NHL goal for the Ducks, who improved to 4-4-2 (10 pts.) this season. John Gibson locked it down at the other end of the ice, recording his seventh career shutout in a 30-save performance.
"We were ready to play," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. "From the beginning, we were able to skate and execute. We found a way to push a couple pucks across the line. The power play scored two goals. That's the difference in the game."
The Kings, meanwhile, were shutout for the third consecutive game and fell to 4-6-0 (8 pts.).
Physical play is a common theme whenever these two teams meet, and they wasted no time exchanging unpleasantries when Jared Boll and Kyle Clifford squared off in the neutral zone just 2:33 into the game. Interestingly enough, it was the first fighting major of the season for Boll, who amassed 1,195 penalty minutes over nine seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Clifford again paved a lane to the penalty box with 1:36 remaining in the period when he dropped the gloves with Kevin Bieksa, who opted for a big right instead of the usual jersey grab to begin the fight. Both players landed several punches flush before the officials stepped in.
Just when it seemed like the period was coming to a scoreless end, the Ducks struck first on Rakell's first goal (and point) of the season. Stationed behind Kesler on the left wing, Rakell corralled Kesler's faceoff win and snapped one past an unsuspecting Peter Budaj who had his own defenseman Jake Muzzin standing in the shooting lane.
"The plan was always to shoot it if I got it," said Rakell. "Kes made a great faceoff play, and I just tried to get it through."
Anaheim's momentum carried over into the second period when Vermette and Kesler tallied goals 31 seconds apart on a four-minute power play after Muzzin raked Cramarossa across the bridge of his nose with his stick.
Vermette's goal - his first as a Duck - came off a beautiful pass from Rakell, who set up shop behind Budaj and waited until a lane opened for him to send a four-foot pass into the slot.
Still on the back-end of the four-minute power play, the Ducks used a clean zone entry to spread out the Kings' defense. From there, Ryan Getzlaf carried the puck to the near boards before sending a crisp cross-ice pass to a hard-driving Kesler, who redirected it past Budaj.
With the Kings still on their heels, the Ducks kicked it into overdrive when Cramarossa's wraparound banked off a Kings skater and past Budaj to give them a 4-0 lead at the 10:46 mark of the second period. The goal represented Cramarossa's first-career tally in the NHL. Cramarossa has spent the majority of his professional career in the American Hockey League, where he totaled 31 points (17g/14a) in 164 games with San Diego and the Norfolk Admirals.
The 24-year-old admitted he "went blank" in the moments that followed his goal. "I don't even remember what I did. I think I put my hands up and the guys came in. They were pretty excited. I saw it cross the line. It was just amazing. I won't forget today."
Cramarossa would later add a fighting major under his belt in a third period that was marked by a steady parade to the penalty box.
"He's worked hard, and we think highly of him," said Carlyle. "He's been rewarded for his hard work. It wasn't an easy goal to score. He's a scrappy individual. He's played hard for us."
With the victory, the Ducks have taken 12 of the past 16 regular-season games against the Kings (12-2-2) and improved to 61-43-24 all-time against their crosstown rivals.
The Ducks will conclude their back-to-back set tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Honda Center.